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Revisit: Tasty China

tcmenuTasty China had me at “hot and numbing rabbit cubes.”

Look! There! The fourth item on the menu.

I don’t know why these words warm my soul every time I visit this  Sichuan standby in Marietta. Maybe because they sounds like a line of syllabic verse. Something from Dylan Thomas:

Hot and numbing rabbit cubes
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed

I’ve never actually eaten this dish because it figures too highly in my imagination. Plus, there are too many other favorites I have to have every time I go.

The restaurant has definitely changed since the days in late 2006 (has it really been that long?) since I first tried the fiery cooking of former chef Peter Chang. This chef is long gone, as is bossy former manager Phuong Nguyen. But it is still one of my favorites, serving dragon-breath delectables in the familiar comfort of a tatty Chinese restaurant.

foodtcspicyfishI can never resist the hot and numbing beef rolls (left) — a julienne of beef made nearly crunchy with hot peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, the whole wrapped in a tortilla-like flatbread with tender shredded iceberg lettuce hearts. I so wish there was a food cart selling these downtown.

The other can’t miss for me is the dish called “sharp pepper fish” (right), which combines soft tofu and fillets of white fish under a torrent of red pepper, scallions and crunchy fried mung beans. The unappetizing image that always comes to my mind is a flabby belly with horrible sunburn — so fat and anodyne beneath, so ferocious on top.

tcriceglutentcsoupI always make room on the table for a new dish — on this visit something called “rice gluten with sesame pasta and garlic” (left). I’m fairly certain we got the gelled rice cakes with chili oil that, like the beef rolls, drips with red oil. It is surpassingly delicious for a bite or three (particularly with all those crunchy bits of Chinese celery atop) but the sheer oiliness catches up with you. I admit this after having snarfed the leftovers late one night and feeling like I should have perhaps just poured a Mazola cocktail. My friend, also an old Tasty China head, insisted we get the fish soup (right) with preserved cabbage. The tangy broth was a fantastic backdrop for the pickled cabbage shreds, cilantro stems (which have their own particular flavor apart from the leaf) and sodden cubes of ginger, each bite a mini-explosion.

Always a comfort. Always a thrill. You can’t say that about many restaurants.

10 comments Add your comment

jerm

February 19th, 2010
5:19 pm

I hate to be a pill but, John, how can both the rice gluten and fish soup be pictured on the “(right)”?

jimmy

February 19th, 2010
6:09 pm

Fuchsia Dunlop (author of Revolutionary Chinese, Land of Plenty, etc) wrote a good post on “oily” Chinese food. Good read. http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/whos-calling-who-greasy/

מתכון

February 21st, 2010
3:56 am

Karen

February 21st, 2010
7:51 pm

I always have to have the dry fried eggplant and the dumpling soup with chili oil. My only complaint about Tasty China is that it’s not closer to Atlanta!

John Kessler

February 21st, 2010
11:02 pm

jw

February 22nd, 2010
12:29 pm

Like you JK, I was intruiged by the hot and numbing rabbit cubes. Of course Phuong tried to discourage me. That was one time I should have listened to her. They were a major dissapointment. Wontons in chili oil – YUM!

pika

February 23rd, 2010
1:36 pm

There’s an article in the most recent issue of the New Yorker about the peripatetic Peter Chang (formerly of Tasty China) and his devoted followers.

John Kessler

February 24th, 2010
12:15 pm

Thanks, Pika — Just noticed while thumbing through the NY last night. Post about it going up momentarily.

[...] At first I though it was another story about chef du jour David Chang. But, no, it was about Peter Chang — the chef who created such a sensation when he arrived at Tasty China restaurant in 2006. The chef stayed only briefly, but he put this Marietta restaurant on the map. (I revisited it recently.) [...]

alan

February 24th, 2010
4:30 pm

We went last weekend for the first time and were not disappointed. The food was excellent. we had dan dan noodles, twice cooked pork and a cold beef dish with chili oil and cilantro. Sorry I can’t recall the name but my wife and I loved it. Can’t wait to go back there again. really glad it’s in Marietta too. reminds me of the first time I had Sichun, it was the “Sichun taste” in chatham sq in nyc about 35 yrs ago. I prefer restaurants like Tasty China to the glitzier places. It also reminded me of Joyce Chens Small eating Place in Cambridge Ma. A menu that was different and as I ate my way through I’ve developed a lifeling taste for Schuan food.